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The Theatre Critic as Thinker: a Round-Table Discussion

  • Eric Bentley, Robert Brustein and Stanley Kauffmann

Abstract

In 1946, Eric Bentley published The Playwright as Thinker, a revolutionary study of modern drama that helped to create the intellectual climate in which serious American theatre would thrive in the second half of the twentieth century. In 1964 Robert Brustein published an equally influential study of modern drama entitled The Theatre of Revolt. And in 1966, Stanley Kauffmann began a brief, combative stint as first-string theatre critic for the New York Times. Kauffmann's short-lived tenure at the Times dramatized the enormous gap that had arisen between mainstream taste and the alternative vision of the theatre that he shared with Bentley and Brustein. Collectively, these three critics championed the European modern dramatists, like Pirandello, Brecht, Beckett, and Genet, whose plays were rarely if ever performed on Broadway. They also embraced the early work of performance groups such as Julian Beck and Judith Malina's Living Theater when they were either ignored or deplored by most mainstream reviewers. Above all, they challenged the time-honoured idea that the primary goal of the theatre is to provide the audience with an emotional catharsis achieved by realistically identifying with the dramatic protagonist. By contrast, Bentley, Brustein, and Kauffmann championed a theatre that emphasized poetic stylization, intellectual seriousness, and social engagement. The discussion which follows, held on 27 October 2007 at the Philoctetes Center, New York, examines the legacy of these leading American theatre critics of the past fifty years. Bert Cardullo, who transcribed and edited the discussion, was Stanley Kauffmann's student at the Yale School of Drama and is the author, editor, or translator of many books, among them Theater of the Avant-Garde, 1889–1950, What Is Dramaturgy?, and American Drama/Critics: Writings and Readings.

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The Theatre Critic as Thinker: a Round-Table Discussion

  • Eric Bentley, Robert Brustein and Stanley Kauffmann

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